Do You Get Your Money’s Worth at Writers Conferences? by Sherry Perkins

Do You Get Your Money’s Worth at Writers Conferences?

by Sherry Perkins


Writers conferences. Are they worth it? Many of them cost upwards of $150 and I suppose, for the longest time, that’s what kept me from attending one. But several authors or other book friends had recommended going. Repeatedly.

“You’ll have fun,” they said. “You’ll meet people and learn things! Go! Do it!”

Who was I to argue? These were people I admired. People who knew way more about writing, publishing and marketing than I did. So, I relented. I got out my credit card, dusted it off and registered for the Eastern Shore Writers Association “Bay to Ocean Writers Conference 2020” (BTO) held at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Maryland on March 7th.

That was at the beginning of the coronavirus spread. Attending a brick and mortar conference today would be inadvisable and impossible—for good reason. Our shared community mantra is now to wash your hands, look after each other, practice social distancing to lessen the possibility of surge capacity and most importantly, be kind to each other…but back to writers conferences, which you can still attend remotely.

I learned three things before I even walked in the door.

  1. These events sell out quickly. Take advantage of the early bird registration option; it guarantees a seat and you save a fair amount off the regular registration price.
  2. Registration often includes the price of annual membership to the sponsoring writers association. Nice!
  3. The cost of attending is a tax deduction. Yay! Keep all your receipts.

This doesn’t include what I learned from the website. It provided a conference overview and a lot of session options. Most writers conferences are similarly structured. They offer writer tracks for all levels of knowledge and experience such as in poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and marketing, editing and publishing.

Generally, you’re asked to pre-select three or four preferred sessions for planning requirements. The selections don’t necessarily have to be in a single track. In fact, you’re encouraged to spread your wings and attend at least one session outside your comfort level. If I had one regret, that would have been it – I should have attended something other than marketing and publishing. Not because the sessions weren’t beneficial. Because they were. But because learning something different is always good.

The writers association web page and conference overview also provide other valuable information beforehand. You can read up on the writers association provenance, the accomplishments of its members and the association usually allows you to link your books or other published works (poetry, flash fiction, short stories, anthologies and the like) to the site. Plus, there are often other benefits associated with membership. These will vary but might include discounts on formatting and editing services, or special publication opportunities.

Then, there is the networking and I still hadn’t stepped foot into a classroom. Networking can be a bit scary, especially if you’re an introvert. Eek! But everyone was nice. Helpful, even. And they all had business cards. Helpful hint: take your own business cards. Your card doesn’t have to be expensive. There are plenty of templates for home printer use. Only make sure you use card stock, something easy to read and that all the information on it is current and correct. Take my word, you don’t want to find out later that the Facebook link you provided is not yours but some chick with the same name (don’t ask). If you have branded swag, you can bring that too. Don’t worry if you don’t have any goodies though because, truthfully, all you need is the business cards—and you should pass them out like candy.

The sessions? These will obviously be different depending on where you attend, whether it’s a one- or two-day conference, and the caliber of the presenters. For BTO, there were five tracks: Beginners Fiction; Advanced Fiction; Poetry; Editing, Publishing and Marketing, and Craft and Non-Fiction. Each track was approximately an hour, or 45 minutes of “lecture” and 15 minutes of “questions.”

A lot, I mean, a lot of material was covered. Let me give you some examples. I exclusively attended the Editing, Publishing and Marketing track so I’m not too conversant on some of the material.

  1. Beginners Fiction covered such topics as improving writing skills, the types of dialogue and how to use them effectively, how characterization helps an actor find motivation for a role, streamlining your work, and what plot points are.
  2. Advanced Fiction covered such topics as writing flash fiction, how to write from the perspective of the opposite sex, the psychology of writing a hook, writing in novel formats, writing short and long-form fiction.
  3. Poetry covered such topics as point of view, constructing a sonnet, revising your work, concision and composition, and introduction to pi-ku.
  4. Craft and Non-Fiction covered such topics as building and borrowing story structures, using emotion in your writing to combat injustice, writing a family memoir, using historical location and context, and playwrighting.
  5. Editing, Marketing and Publishing covered such topics as how to get published in a magazine or journal, publishing options, first impressions and editing, career survival, and building a marketing strategy.

Wow! First, let me say I had no idea what concision was, or pi-ku (but contextually, it was easy to figure), and streamlining or combating social injustice would have been way cool to learn more about but I got every penny of what I paid for in the Editing, Marketing and Publishing track.

The getting published in a magazine or journal session was primarily for poets but it was easily applicable to flash fiction, essays and short stories. I learned how to research who is accepting submissions, which honestly was no different from subbing a novel to a traditional publisher, but the speaker was kind enough to share stories about rejection letters and resilience, and that was pretty funny.

Publishing options was a fascinating session. The speaker talked about traditional vs. indie publishing and the pros and cons of each. He spoke extensively on small to medium-sized publishers and what they can offer, but also what they expect of you in the marketing process because it’s more of a collaboration than working with the Big Five. He also talked about the proper and professional way to sub a novel.

Professional editing was an eye-opener session. There was a goodly amount of information about how you can be taken advantage of by what are, essentially, vanity publishers. These are publishers who charge thousands of dollars for editing services that should cost only a tenth of that. The speakers offered advice on how to vet an editor and the differences between line editing, content editing and continuity editing.

By far, the two best for my money sessions were career survival, and then building a marketing strategy, both of which started with the premise of why are you getting published since that determines which path to take on your writing journey. To use a bit of concision, suffice it to say that diversification is your friend. Having a backlist of stories is a marketing ploy to become familiar with as soon as possible, as is tying some other product to your “brand” and stories.

Did I mention you also get breakfast, snacks and lunch, a keynote speaker, handouts, free and sincere advice, and new friends? Therefore, if I divide the five-hour sessions and add in the keynote speaker’s address and meals and the writers association membership fee, I made out like a bandit. Really. When we have a better handle on the coronavirus, or you can attend a writers conference remotely, do it!

You’ll have fun. You’ll meet people and learn things.

I did.


Special thanks to BTO 2020, and the speakers who made it memorable for me: Tara A. Elliott, Austin Camacho, Michele Chynoweth, Judy Reveal, Robert Bindinotto, and Ariele Sieling.




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